Whenever Jean, a resident of Kagugu, wants to go to town, he just scrolls through his smart phone for the right app, and sends a message. Moments later, a cab arrives and off he goes.
This is possible, thanks to the proliferation of a number of smart devices on the Rwanda market. Smart phone penetration has created an environment for the development of the mobile applications and mobile solutions that can run on smart phones.
A number of mobile phone solutions and applications have been developed that largely depend on the popularity of smart phones.
Among the locally-developed solutions include 250TAXI, a cab hailing app; Safemotos, a motorcycle hailing app; Jumia foods, for online food orders, and E-soko and agriculture sector related apps, M-farms that make it possible for fertilisers dealers to project supplies for the coming season, and help in bookkeeping, among others.
Experts say increased smart phone penetration is likely to see a high uptake and usage of local solutions, which will consequently see the increase of apps development in the country.
Nsenga Patrick, a local tech enthusiast, said the rising numbers of smart phones in Rwanda is largely driven by the affordability of brands on the local market.
He said competition factors have also presented players in the industry an opportunity to innovate and launch relevant solutions.
Over the last decade or so, most of the tech manufacturers have launched at least one improved new phone every year, with extra features compared to its predecessor.
These upgrades have in turn widened the scope of the uses of the gadgets from basic communication to uses, like leisure, financial access, health and fitness accessories and logistics, among others. A close observer will also notice that clear line that defines the smart phone market across the region; pricing and brand preference.
For instance, the Rwandan and East African markets are dominated by brands that may not necessarily be world renowned brands. The largest market share in the country has been taken up by the more affordable brands of smart phones, such as Techno, Konka and Itel, which cost as low as Rwf35,000.
World renowned global brands such as iphone series, Blackberry, Samsung, Sony, and HTC, which are viewed as prestigious, on the other hand, are common among the middle-class citizens, and go for as much as $100 (about Rwf81,200).
The affordability of the lower market brands has seen them gain preference given the low disposable incomes of most citizens across the region. “We already have some banks introducing apps to increase financial inclusion and convenience of clients. This is one of the most unexplored sectors in this market.
Going forward, app developers should study the market to identify gaps which include gaming that they can fill,” he said.
Nsenga added that players in the sector have an advantage as mobile solutions can be marketed beyond the country’s borders if well thought.
According to Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority statistics on smart phone penetration, there were over 665,000 devices in the third quarter of last year. This figure has grown to around a million, according to unofficial statistics. This is against a mobile phone penetration of 8.9 million as of June this year.
Economics of smart phones in the country
Mobile phone vendors told the Business Times that from the trends in sales and demand, cheaper smart phone brands are not only affordable, but have similar features as global brands, and are easy to repair.
Alphonse Kabera, a city-based wholesaler and retailer of phones, said the non-global brands makers understand the market, if one was to base on the products they launch into the market and the pricing.
“Brands such as Techno and Itel have features that most users are looking for. They have good cameras, as well as inbuilt memory and can support multiple features.
“Despite the bad reputation of some Chinese brands, these devices have passed the test of durability and come with spares,” Kabera said.
According to the salesman, buyers of the global brands are perceived to belong to the middle-class or high income largely because of the cost of the phones.
However, to make it easy and affordable for clients to afford the global brands, telecoms and some financial outlets have come up with packages that allow users to buy high-end smart phones on credit and payable over a period of time, usually within months, while some reayment periods go up to years.
These packages are common for new phones on the market, making it possible for clients to access the latest phones without having to bear the entire cost at a go.
“For the last three years, I have been able to buy the latest phones courtesy of offers provided by my telecom service provider. The arrangement involves a partnership between my bank and telecom company, and enables me pay within three to six months,” Ernest Turatize a phone enthusiast told this paper.